It's time to end the stigma of international teaching

After 2020 there should be no more misconceptions over the skills international teachers possess, says the CEO of COBIS
22nd October 2020, 10:44am

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It's time to end the stigma of international teaching

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/its-time-end-stigma-international-teaching
Coronavirus: It's Time To Banish The Stigma That International Teaching Is A Soft Option, Says Colin Bell, Ceo Of Cobis

All teachers have had a tough year - and that's putting it mildly.

But imagine leading a school through a pandemic when you don't speak the local language, are subject to an entirely different set of laws and rules or are stuck in a hotel quarantining before you can start a new job.

That's the reality that many international teachers have faced over the past year - from China to Chile, Morocco to Mongolia.

Indeed, I've spoken to heads who had to start their new jobs while meeting new staff and parent groups from Zoom calls in their hotel rooms, to teachers who not only had a pandemic to contend with but also the fact that their host country had also become involved in armed conflict.

Teachers meeting the coronavirus challenge head-on

Yet through this they have risen to the challenge - making good first impressions on video calls, adapting to ever-changing government demands (one head I spoke to had changed timetables four times in four weeks) and keeping parents informed about remote learning plans.

They all get on with the job at hand because, generally speaking, being willing to move overseas and take on such a challenge is something for those who are innovative, adaptable and are not easily phased.

However, this does not mean it is easy. Far from it.

Sometimes the thing a teacher needs most is the chance to talk to, or hear from, someone else who is going through the same situation as them, who can offer advice or wisdom, or just recognises that the problems they are facing are tough.

A positive support network

As such, providing the means for teachers to connect and talk to one another - whether with other COBIS members through COBIS ConnectED, other professionals groups, on Facebook or Twitter, or through the pages of Tes - is something that the profession must not take for granted or overlook.

We should also not overlook just how talented our international teachers are either.

After all, just like those in their home nations, they have come through a period of immense change to become even stronger, more adaptable, resilient and talented.

Perhaps this will help to dispel the view of international teaching that many hold - that somehow it is lesser than "regular" teaching - for good.

The value of international staff

I'm not sure why this has ever been the case - after all, international teachers have all the same qualifications, and are also well versed at dealing with adversity, working with EAL pupils, dealing with demanding parents, and navigating Byzantine government paperwork.

As such, UK schools, or any other home nation school system, should be snapping up these teachers when they return from being overseas.

Yet I have heard numerous anecdotes from international teachers who have returned to the UK and found the job marketing strangely resistant to their applications or that they can only find entry-level jobs on the lowest pay bands, despite having years of experience in leading schools across the globe.

Perhaps there is a still a perception that international teaching is an excuse for a trip around the world with a bit of TEFL thrown in to keep the party fund topped up.

Talent anyone would welcome

Anyone who has worked overseas will tell you how ill-informed such a view is - and this year, more than ever, we have seen the reality that being an international teacher is a job that demands the highest level of skill, patience and adaptability.

It also does not help that UK teachers who travel overseas to work in leading schools that do so much to help with UK's much-vaunted "soft power" are also immediately classed as "leaving the profession" under the government's regulations.

Regardless, as we look to the future, it is high time education in the UK and elsewhere fully recognised and appreciated the value of international teachers.

So if an application arrives from a teacher with years of overseas teaching experience - give it the consideration it deserves.

They would only be an asset to your organisation.

Colin Bell is the CEO of COBIS

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